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Any bailout for the aviation sector must be predicated on strong carbon commitments

| PA Images

4 min read

Other governments are bailing out their aviation sectors, but imposing environmental conditions on doing so – the UK could learn a lesson about protecting both jobs and the planet

As both a West London MP and a member of the Transport Select Committee I’ve seen the huge challenges facing our aviation sector from the coronavirus. With workers across the sector facing redundancies and cuts to pay and conditions I know how difficult the past months have been.

It’s important that the Government step up and support our aviation industry during this difficult time. However, any Government support needs to include clear conditions and protections for our environment and our efforts to tackle climate change. 

The aviation sector represents a growing proportion of the UK’s greenhouse gas emission as sources from other sectors decline.  With reports that the Arctic has seen record temperatures this summer it’s vital that the climate impact of the aviation sector is front and centre.

Nearly 10% of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from aviation and the sector is anticipated to be the highest emitting sector by 2050. Furthermore, aviation is a major generator of emissions of other greenhouse gasses.  So, what can the Government do to tackle this?

Firstly, they can look across the Channel at the approach taken by European countries such as France and Austria who have been clear in imposing environmental commitments upon any bailout for their aviation sector. For example, Air France will have to halve its overall CO2 emissions by 2030, with a 50% reduction for domestic flights by 2024. This is on top of a renewal of its fleet with more efficient aircraft and a commitment to source 2% of its fuel from sustainable sources by 2025, which of course could retain jobs in our aircraft manufacturing sector if adopted by the UK Government. 

These specific methods contrast with the approach of our Government. We’re still waiting to even see if there will be sector specific support for our aviation industry here in the UK. I have been calling on the Government to provide further direct support for our aviation sector; but this needs to be done with clear commitments.

The recently announced ‘Jet Zero Council’ will simply amount to a talking shop unless there is clear and sustained action from the Government

More generally I know that it’s easy for Government ministers to rely on promises from the industry alone, without any clear oversight. We know that previous commitments such as the pledge to reach 10% of fuels from sustainable sources by 2020 have been broken. That’s why I’m concerned that the recently announced ‘Jet Zero Council’ will simply amount to a talking shop unless there is clear and sustained action from the Government.

If the Government want to show that they are serious, they could follow the advice of the Committee on Climate Change and formally include aviation in our climate targets in the Sixth Carbon Budget. On top of that the Government could use its leadership position at the COP 26 climate summit next year and begin pushing for international co-operation.

Additionally, one important issue related to greening our aviation industry is around public transport; if more people could travel to airports via public transport this would play a small but important part. If the Government invested in options such as the Western Rail link at Heathrow this would be a positive step to help reduce our emissions. It could also reduce local air pollution which is particularly high along the A4/M4 corridor and surrounding roads.  I am also exploring the use of conditions to reduce local aircraft noise at Heathrow.

We all know that our aviation industry here in the UK is facing huge challenges. However, the Government need to recognise that a response to both the climate crisis and the jobs crisis can go hand in hand if support is provided with strong protections for the environment. 


Ruth Cadbury is Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth

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